Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Sorry About the Migration

I was trying to hold out migrating to the New Blogger for as long as possible, but this time 'round, I couldn't figure out how to do anything other than migrate when I logged in.

Computers are out to get me today, I guess: matlab is taking its precious time to do simple things like read in files and reformat data. And does anybody know what the deal is with kdevelop having to do mysterious updates that crash my machine?

Or maybe I'm just in a tinfoil hatty mood (or maybe "they" are out to get me): I heard on the radio about one Capt. Brian Freeman who spoke candidly about the situation in Iraq with Sens. Dodd and Kerry. He later was killed in an ambush on his base in which the insurgents were wearing US uniforms and using US equipment. First they "pose" as Iraqi police, now this? It does make you go hmmm ...

I know this is serious tin-foil hat territory here, but if it turns out that amongst the Plan B leftovers who run this admin (and who hide behind the religion card whenever they get called on things) is some sort of element who has neither the interests of the US nor even (as is claimed by paranoid anti-Zionists) Israel in mind, but who knows who's interest -- perhaps all the talk of invading Iran is a cover for the opposite? -- you heard it from me first!

But what frightens me the most is that the actions of this cabal will be blamed on all of us tribesmen. Given the inevitability of some form of backlash, do we Jews have an obligation to not act in exact accordance with anti-Semitic stereotypes or would claiming such an obligation be "blaming the victim"?

So many questions ... I'm drifting off my own topic and have a bit of a stomach bug besides ... so I'm ferklempt; discuss amongst yourselves.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


How Can I Get a Meeting in Hollywood to Pitch My Ideas?

I have tons of 'em. Why just last night, I had an odd dream involving the head of the Norwegian-American mafia and two serial killers, one some 50 years ago and one in the present -- that's just dying to be made into a movie or at least a L & O episode. But I'm no screenwriter or even fiction-author. So what's a guy like me to do? A movie about Lutefisk eating gangsters is bound to be better than most of what's available from Hollywood today, dontcha think?


I'm not a Pinko Commie, I Just Look Good in a Salmon Shirt

as does David Brooks (or so he thinks) ... it's a "David thing":

While I do not expect Marketplace to have other than a pro-business tilt, I do tune into that show, as it does tend to offer a fair and balanced picture of financially related news. However, last night's segment on Bush's health care proposal was about as unbalanced as you can get. Normally, in such situations, you can at least count on Robert Reich to provide some much needed perspective and balance, however, in seeking to damn the President's health care proposal with faint praise, even he displayed profound misunderstandings of health care economics. Reich claimed that it is important to decouple health insurance from employment. However, even ignoring that this coupling, described by some as a Gordian knot, got tied the way it is for good and liberal reasons we liberals ignore at our own peril, Reich is deluding himself if he thinks that encouraging employers to drop health care plans is a step in the right direction.

Is Reich so far-sighted in approaching the laudable goal of a forest of universal health care that he misses the trees in front of him? For one thing, would employers necessarily pass on the money they would spend on health care to their employees? And, pace Reich, it isn't just high income employees who have health care: e.g., as a grad student, I had good health care, but if I had to pay that money out of pocket with the same income or even slightly more, it would, deduction for health care expenses or no, cost me more money than I could have afforded: after all, how much are tax deductions worth to low income folk?

And even assuming employers just give employees the money they would have otherwise spent on health care, how could employees afford anywhere near the same coverage they had before. Even ignoring whatever bulk discounts (large) employers may obtain or negotiate, by having employers purchase health insurance, there is automatic dilution of risk. If individuals purchase health insurance, most likely, even with a generous tax deduction, individuals whose risks are low, might make a rational decision to buy less involved health insurance which would leave the insurance companies needing to charge more for the rest of us. While some would suggest mandating health insurance (and what better way to get people more mad at the gummint than mandating health insurance), this would only make the demand for health-insurance inelastic (a concept Reich usually seems to understand, but apparently misses here) and hence increase all of our prices. Having employers buy health insurance creates the necessary pool of insured for expenses to be spread around, which is the point of insurance anyway, without lowering the elasticity of health insurance demand (as an employer can always decide health insurance is too expensive of a benefit).

Our current system may be way broken, but increasing the "privaticity" of the system by dis-incentivizing even employer provided "bulk" health care, is not a step in the right direction, even if it unties the Gordian knot of health care delivery. Increasing the "privaticity" of something to lead to an outcome of a publicly provided service actually sounds about as silly as Lenin's "increasing the contradictions" -- and the last thing liberalism, long accused by rightists as being Communism-lite, needs is actual Communist approaches providing our strategy.

What liberalism does need in order to continue to be a vital and much needed force, on the other hand, is a sense of its own history and how we achieved our past accomplishments, which have done so much good for society. And part of that story is actually employer provided health care and the other union-negotiated benefits that created modern middle-class America. Is this creation imperfect? Yes. Do liberals have good ideas as to how to make things better? Yes. Call me a cliche-abusing conservative though, but we liberals must not be so cavalier about flip-flopping regarding our own accomplishments and throwing babies out with the bathwater.

So as far as health care is concerned, let us not even give the one cheer Robert Reich is prepared to give to Bush's plan, mistaking it for a step in the right direction or out of sheer Leninism. Our health care system needs change ... but encouraging employers to get rid of health care for employees: i.e. for working people for whom the system comes close to working, is only going to encourage those people to view all liberal ideas as being destructive of what little works for the working man and woman. And people wonder why we liberals lost the working class vote? It has nothing to do with social issues and everything to do with history-blind quasi-Leninists who in seeking much needed changes for the system, don't take adequate time to figure out how we even got to the place where we are today, which consideration is necessary to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past on the one hand but also to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater on the other.

Update: actually, whether I look good in various shades of pink has become the subject of debate. Some claim that red-heads such as myself, looking good in muted green, also look very good when that muted green is offset by pink. Others claim that pink does not look good on red-heads, even when worn in combination with muted greens and greys, and I am no exception.


My Old Favorite Coffee

I finally tried the Equator Estate Jaguar espresso blend. It's maybe not the end all that I remember it being, but it is still extremely good. The beans, described on the Equator Estate website as being chestnut colored, are very oily and indeed the exact color of chestnut shells. The flavor is smoky and chocolaty and chalky, not only like my favorite espresso genre of minerally "department store" blends, but also like "cigar" coffees (e.g. Chock-Full O' Nuts): it's the best of all worlds for an espresso, at least.

The Lavazza Pienaroma, which is our lab's default coffee now, is a similar blend, but not as dark or oily.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Blaming the Victim

Question: when is it inappropriately "blaming the victim" and when is it pointing out that someone who is habitually victimized might need to look at their behavior to change it and see what they can do better? And are the standards the same for groups of people as for individuals?


The Hobbesian Tendancy in Modern Fundamentalism

Fundamentalists, in seeking to recover to a more "authentic" religiosity, are thoroughly modern in their outlook as the very notions of authenticity involved in fundamentalism are at most only as old as "print culture" (and possibly date from the Enlightenment or the Romantic age). This irony is often noted by Catholics and JTS students and such. But one aspect of this tendancy is a rather Hobbesian (shall I resist the joke of making a comparison between Hobbes and Calvin here? too late, I guess ...) approach to morality, which is ironic considering that Hobbes was a materialist.

So when did Hobbesianism become a "religious" rather than "secular" way of looking at the world? Is it a function of "Big Mean Daddy in the Sky" theology as some feminists claim? Does this change in Orthodox Judaism correlate with Zionism become "kosher"? Does this change in fundamentalist Christianity correlate with an acceptance of what used to be known as "social Darwinism"? (some would claim that the Hobbesian and Social Darwinist world views are equivalent, so this question is a rather dumb one, but I think the two world views are distinguishable, so I'd say it isn't ... and it's my blog, so I get to make that decision. So there! ;) )

And what caused the change? Is it, as Marxists would claim, a matter of a certain kind of religiosity needing to change to better serve as an opiate to the masses: where the peasants were kept in their place by a promise of heavenly reward, today's worker bees require a different kind of indoctrination? Is it that what Nietzsche would call "slave religion" no longer just for the servile classes anymore and it's views must be adjusted to be more friendly to the already powerful? Or is something else afoot?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Not Everyone ...

... who throws excrement at you is your enemy and not everyone who pulls you out of excrement is your friend ...

I am not sure if I support an Israeli withdrawl from the Golan Heights (if such a withdrawl does occur, how will a demilitarization, necessary for Israel's security, be enforced? and who will compensate those who've invested much in viticulture in the Golan? as for me, I'm just selfish about it and wanna be able to continue to be able to purchase fine wines such as they produce there ... btw, which lack of support places me to the "right" of a sizeable minority in Israel, even as I am still to the "left" of most American Jews as far as Israeli issues are concerned -- what does that say about the views of American Jews on Israel vs. the views of those who actually live there? hmm ... ), but this article raises an interesting point (that probably applies to "supporters" of the US as well as of Israel): taking a hard line doesn't necessarily lead to long term security -- in fact it can undermine it. Certainly, we should be very leary of those Americans who would (see the comments) "fight to the last Israeli" -- are they really pro-Israel? -- and even more leary of those who want Israel to be "strong" so as to bring on Armeggeden. There is no free lunch, and those who think that Israel gets right-wing support in this country with no strings attached, should like at the pernicious influence on Israeli policy of the support of certain, e.g., American lobbies.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Hardening Pharoah's Heart

I guess actually the part where God hardens Pharaoh's heart comes from this last week's parsha, not from Sh'moth. So consider the last week's blog on that to be for this week as well.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


A Fine Country You've Got There: It'd be a shame if anything were to happen to it

The new line from the Bush admin seems to be that Middle Eastern powers realize they face a grave threat from Iran, so they have every incentive to cooperate with us, e.g., on issues relating to Iraq. This might be an insightful observation, but, at least the way it's being presented, it sounds more like an old-fashioned insurance racket or good/cop bad cop scenario: pay your "insurance" and we'll protect you from Iran; cooperate with us good cops, and Iran won't bust you.

First, allow me to point out how bad it is, foreign policy-wise, that we can even be perceived as playing such a game. We liberals often tend to underestimate the degree to which the idealistic analyses of the neo-conservatives are often spot-on (too many of us fall into the same trap of mistaking some of the more idealistic analyses of the neo-cons for the "realism" for which these analyses provide a cover -- which is discarded whenever push comes to shove anyway -- into which supporters of the neo-cons fall whenever they criticize us as "realists" and wonder why we moonbats aren't more "idealistic" as is claimed is our wont), and the neo-cons are spot on about the "threat" democracy provides to Middle Eastern oligarchs in the Middle East. The problem is that Iran, while far from a liberal democratic republic, is a quasi-democracy (actually, substitute fundamentalist Protestant Christianity for fundamentalist 12er Shi'ite Islam, and Iran has the exact system of government the religious right proposes for the USA), and to the degree to which the neo-cons are right about Iran being a threat in the Middle East and about democracy being a threat to Middle Eastern oligarchy, Iran is at least partially a threat because it represents an example of a viable Islamic democracy (*) whose Islamic revolution may spread and undermine 'Shah's in Saudi Arabia, etc. So by even being perceived as playing a good cop to these oligarchs who fear democracy, the neo-cons are falling into precisely the trap they wanted to invade Iraq to avoid: being perceived as anti-democracy. In general, whether it's our actions in the Middle East or our support of "free trade" neo-colonialism, "they hate us", not because of our freedoms, but because we actively oppose their freedoms.

Of course, if we are indeed playing such a game, that's even worse, 'cause it might be the case that Iran is in on that game. And for those who think it's unreasonable that we would be drumming to fight a war against Iran all the while we're playing footsy with them under the table to run an insurance racket in the Middle East, consider a few things:

(1) We were shipping people off to Syria to be tortured (and thus playing footsy with them under the table) even as we were goading Israel to fight a proxy war with the Syrian and Iranian proxies of Hezbollah on our behalf (for those who, either anti-Semites hiding behind anti-Zionism or Jews who gloat over their supposed cleverness in getting the goyim to fight "our wars" for us, think Israel is using us as a tool in Iraq, consider how we, in fact under Bush & CO, have put Israel in harm's way to use it as a tool -- now is Bush really so good for Israel?). Even more to the point, given our control in Iraq, if Iran were arming Hezbollah, we not only would have known it, the US must have been allowing it to happen!

(2) During the Iran/Iraq war, some of the same people in charge at Bush & CO, were ostensibly supporting Iraq, at the time when Saddam Hussein was at his most genocidal period, even as we were, under the table, arming Iran.

(3) Certainly, Bush & CO has been very good for Iran. For example, under the Bush admin, the U.S. has removed enemies of Iran on both sides and has reversed our old policy of requiring Iran to stop supporting terrorist groups before we really engage with them and supplanted it with a policy that, since we are so afraid of Iranian nuclear capabilities (way to project an image of strength, Bush & CO! now every country will figure out that all they need to do is threaten to produce nukes and we'll role over for them ... OTOH, by invading Iraq, we sent a message that the threat has to be reasonable credible, otherwise, we'll just invade), we'll fully engage with them if only they'll not produce nukes.

So even as we may very well be moving to war with Iran, given the past history of the people in this admin, it may very well be the case that when they are sounding like we're trying to run an insurance scam to keep the Middle East on our side, they are not misstating or even bluffing but rather are Freudian slipping and giving away their real policies.

And if that's what's going on ... Wow! How did anyone think Bush & CO would keep us safe? From Iran/Contra to our de facto rewarding of Iran and Al Qaeda, it's clear that the so-called clever folks of Team B are either stupid or completely bonkers (how their helping of our enemies -- which is treason btw, and their defenders accuse us moonbats of treason? -- is not stupid but is in fact keeping us safe, at least in the short term, has been outlined across the more paranoid parts of left blogostan on many occasions).

* Indeed, the neo-cons in practice have severely underestimated the role of Islam, even if they keenly acknowledge in theory that role, as a popular mode of opposition to oligarchy in the Middle East: not only does Islam provide a Hallal, if you'll pardon the pun, way to oppose oligarchies, it also provides, as P.J. O'Rourke put it in describing the speed at which east Bengalis converted to Islam 1000 years ago, "equality before the law and a set of laws worth being equal before": while today's wanna-be Pauline conservatives dismiss the very idea of law as being an equalizer, the Judeo-Islamic tradition, which so greatly informed the very construction of our secular democracy (c.f. recent posts on this blog), views law as precisely that which allows us to be equal (before it).


Sh'moth Blogging

This week's Torah portion describes, among other things, God as hardening Pharaoh's heart, which raises the problem: did God sin by alienating Pharaoh from a path in which lives could be saved, etc.? Well, a look at the literal words of Torah answers the question as being irrelevant. God did not actually, according to the Torah, harden Pharaoh's heart, but rather "strengthened" it. God strengthens our hearts, but it is up to us to use that strength for good and not for evil.

It may be tedious, but, as Isaiah points out in the Prophetic reading, it's important to pay attention not just to the big ideas, but each verse, each little word, etc.


Real Judeo-Christian Morality

According to the "Religious Right" we are a "Judeo-Christian" country and our laws should reflect that. Now, whether there can even be such a thing as "Christian law" is a matter of debate, but there certainly is "Jewish law". And, in large part our country's laws do correspond with Jewish law: while we allow people to eat pork (which is not forbidden to non-Jews according to Jewish law) and even allow blood-sausages (which are forbidden to all according to some interpretations of Jewish law), e.g. our uniform commercial code is remarkably similar to Talmudic discourse on the subject. But does this mean that our laws are Jewish (or ought to be Jewish) in origin (btw, what about the Muslim origins of our laws? Polish nobles were active in shaping our notions of secular liberty, which nobility had a strong Islamic, through the Lipka Tartars, component: pace Prager, Goode, et al., our system is not so much Judeo-Christian as Judeo-Islamic) or do the similarities merely reflect a lack of diverse possibilities in legal systems capable of regulating commercial transactions in a reasonable manner? As a matter of ethnic pride, I'd like to think the former, but in reality it's probably the latter.

Interestingly, in a few key areas our laws do not reflect Biblical principles. For example, our anti-usury laws are too weak (under Biblical law, interest is not allowed, but Talmudically loans are technically investments whose profits are regulated), our bankruptcy laws are not friendly enough and we don't have strong legal protections against price fraud. So how come the same people who are so up in arms about gay marriage (which may be ok in terms of Biblical law after all) and abortion (which the Bible does not prohibit) are not up in arms about our lack of anti-price fraud laws? Judaic law (and hence, I would presume, the Judeo-Christian tradition whose morality the religious right claims our nation ought to follow) considers that any sale of items at prices 16.7% above or below market value can be made void if either the seller or buyer complains within 24 hours. I imagine, in fact, given their association with the "free market" loving Republican Party, those same people who are so up in arms about abortion and "the gay agenda" would oppose such regulations concerning price fraud.

So what gives? The Religious Right advances an agenda contrary to Biblical principles, but claims they are fighting for Judeo-Christian morality? I wonder what the feller they call "the Son of God" would say about that? I reckon he'd have some choice words about these kinds of people ...

And considering this week's Prophetic reading, Isaiah (an appropriate Prophet from which to read corresponding to the Exodus, considering the Prophetic tradition of emphasizing the Exodus, which reflected the geopolitical situation of the time in Judea and the Prophetic arguments against aligning with Egypt) would have some choice words, I'd reckon as well ...

Thursday, January 11, 2007


"Failure in Iraq is not an Option"

Unless we already have failed ... in which case, what do we do now?

Of course, if failure was not an option, should we really have even gone into Iraq in the first place?

Meanwhile, reading between the lines with all this talk of "Iraqi commitments", it's obvious we at least now have an exit strategy: we'll blame Iraq for not stepping up to the plate or some such. We broke it but it's their responsibility to fix it? Wow! That's a way to convince the world we're winners, not loosers, and that we're a force for good in the world, etc.

The admin is right about the costs of failure. Too bad we failed long ago. Of course, when an idea is as bad as invading Iraq was, what other options were there except the non-option of failure?


Stupid Admin Tricks

Listening to the follow-up press conference given by Secs. Rice and Gates this morning, my belief that this admin is perhaps the stupidest admin ever has been confirmed.

This particularly bugs me:

Sec. Rice is willing to meet with her Iranian counterpart whenever and wherever he wants provided Iran gives up its enrichment programs (I think she specified "Uranium" -- did she just give Iran an out to make a Plutonium based bomb?). The jokes practically write themselves: "Dr. Rice? This is the Iranian foreign minister. We've given up U235 enrichment. How about we meet, as you say, 'wherever and whenever'? How does 7:00 PM for dinner and a movie sound? We'll go up to my hotel room after?"

Seriously, though -- dontcha all worry that by making such a big deal out of Iran's nuke program (which is, I agree, a big deal), we're kinda missing the trees for the forest, so to speak? According to the admin (and I tend to believe them on this), Iran's helping all manner of terrorists, etc. But because they've threatened to build nukes, all they need to do to be on our good side is to cease and desist with the nuke-building? That's a way to project strength: "we don't like your country, but we're willing to meet with you anywhere and anytime so long as you stop with the nuke-building 'cause we're scared crapless about that". And that's a way to discourage nuke building by other nations: "you wanna get US attention and for us to meet with you no matter what evil things you continue to do, well, building nukes is working for Iran in that regard -- the US has promised to meet with them no matter what so long as they just stop with the nuke building".

Talk about teh stupid.

But the stupidity is not limitted to Sec. Rice. Sec. Gates had some moments as well. For example he contradicted himself (I missed all the questions from the press -- did anybody catch it?): on the one hand he says that military operations will have to be free from political interference. OTOH, they want the Iraqis to have a working government. Wouldn't such a government, if it were in charge of the military in any meaningful way (unless we want Iraq to have a military dictatorship -- in which case, why did we depose Saddam Hussein in the first place?), interfere politically in the military? Oh, I forget, "politics" is a dirty word and the governance of the polis is supposed to have nothing to do with politics? Don't people read the Federalist Papers anymore? Madison (not to mention Abraham "Changing Generals" Lincoln) must be spinning in his grave enough to provide all the energy Iran may wish to get from fission reactors.

Of course, even people on the ground are stupid, so what do you expect from our government. Yesterday, News and Notes had on a soldier who served in Iraq saying that we ought not to withdraw because there are soldiers in Iraq who have to be allowed to do the job they are trained to do. Alrighty then ... Cue whining from the right about how "the liberal media makes sure it only interviews stupid people who adopt right-wing views to make the right wing look bad".

Why do I have the song "Go Ask Alice" stuck in my head?

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Way Belated Post on Generic Polls

Fortunately, it turned out to be the case that people really did manage to elect Dems. to the House in spite of GOP scare tactics about "Speaker Pelosi of San Francisco", but still I have belatedly figured out exactly the analogy for why poll results indicating people would vote for a generic Democrat over a generic Republican do not indicate those people would vote for an arbitrary Democrat (and hence why such poll results mean almost the opposite of what people think they mean -- something the GOP has long realized, btw):

It's like a form of racism/anti-Semitism/Homophobia. If you ask people if they would vote for a Black person, a Jewish person or even a gay person for president, all but the most racist, anti-Semitic homophobes would say "yes" -- very few people nowadays are out-of-the-closet, even to themselves, with their racism, etc. However, would all those people who answered yes actually vote for a Black person, Jew or homosexual? Alas no ... just as some people who swear they are not (and sincerely believe themselves not to be) racists will always find some way of working in a racial angle if the person they're upset at happens to be Black (or otherwise go on about "those people" or some such), many people who would vote for a generic Black person, Jew or homosexual would, if faced with an actual Black, Jewish or homosexual candidate find reasons not to vote for the actual candidate, even if they would vote for a white, straight Christian candidate expressing the same positions, etc. (I could go off on many tangents here, but I am too under-caffeinated to do so now: the comments might be a good place for y'all to go off on the obvious tangents).

So it may very well be with Democrats. Just because someone says "I'm not a partisan, I would vote for a Democrat" doesn't mean they actually would, even if they are sincere when they say what they say. They would vote for a Democrat, so they think. But unless the Dem. is to the right of Zig-Zag-Zell, they would, in practice, find some reason not to vote for that Democrat.


(Quasi-) Weekly Parsha Blogging: VaYechi

This week's parsha marks the last portion in the book of Genesis. While the Hertz (Soncino) Chumash doth protest too much regarding the documentary hypothesis concerning the authorship of the Torah (which the more recent Etz Chaim edition happily explicates as the best current hypothesis of the authorship of the Torah), those protests, many of which are summarized in the Hertz after the book of Genesis, do provide some pretty good arguments against, e.g., P being a post-exilic source. Certainly, even though it seems likely that separate J and E sources existed in Judea and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, respectively, these sources were likely heavily harmonized before even the period of a unified Kingdom of Israel rather than after the exile as many have claimed. I wouldn't be surprised if the P source was already harmonized along with the J and E sources long before the exilic period. To me the arguments of the Hertz Chumash don't quite hold water (as I said, Rabbi Hertz doth protest too much) but they do at least establish a relatively early date for the harmonization of at least the J, E and P sources. At the very least, if the P source were post-exilic, it was a remarkably good attempt at constructing a historical justification for the Second Temple as it differs not only from Ezekiel (which may be fairly called the Deuteronomic Priestly Code, nu?) but also from the actual Second Temple practice enough to give it a ring of hoary antiquity. Since the temptation in such a justification is always to make it too pat (c.f. conservatives talking about the religiosity of the Founding Fathers or even liberals talking about their secularism), either P was so clever that we might as well take P's cleverness to be a sign of divine inspiration anyway or P is indeed a product of hoary antiquity.

Another interesting point the Hertz makes is the lack of correspondence between Mesopotamian Creation and Flood myths and the Hebrew Bible's versions. I would suggest that, if anything, the "foreign" influence in Genesis is more likely Hittite than Mesopotamian. I wonder: is there any connection between the tribal name of Asher (and hence the Hebrew/Aramaic word for "fortunate", the "blessed" -- as in "Blessed are the meek", etc. -- of the Sermon on the Mount), the Canaanite/Phoenecian consort goddess Ashera and the Ashuras of the Indo-Europeans? Certainly Asher, as a "concubine" tribe may not have been Hebrew in origin but rather Phoenecian. I would reckon that while certainly the Hebrews in exile borrowed much from Persian traditions (and Mesopotamian ones ... hence the name "Morduchai", "Marduk lives"), perhaps many of the similarities between Hebraic and Persian mythos relate not to a Zoroastrian influence on the Hebrews in Exile but rather to a common Indo-European tradition which the Hebrews learned from the Phoenecians who absorbed them from the Hittites (who get some prominent mentions, although likely it's the Phoenecian group who absorbed the Hittite name rather than the Hittites themselves who are mentioned, in this Parsha in particular as well as in Genesis as a whole).

But that is somewhat off-topic for the Parsha at hand. What may be noted, from a literary point of view, is the wonderful use of subtle foreshadowing (e.g. Joseph realizing that it might not be possible for his survivors to carry his remains immediately back to Canaan as were carried the remains of Jacob earlier in the Parsha). The end of Genesis is the end of an era: the end of the great swath of early Bronze Age civilization. The Torah is silent after that period, skipping the rise of another round of Bronze Age civilization (the New Kingdom in Egypt, the Mycinaeans in Greece) and picking up again in a period of decline after which Israel emerges as its own kingdom, only to fall in an orgy of wars and empires of the day marking the final hurrah of the Bronze Age before the Iron Age commenced. Genesis as a whole foreshadows (and is most likely a collection of just-so stories) the social organization of Israel (see, for example, Jacob's final blessings in this Parsha and c.f. the events in Judges and I Samuel which tell of the age in which said social organization solidified and in which likely the J and E sources, if not the P source coalesced) and its surroundings as it emerges from that period of decline. So perhaps it is not surprising that the story of the New Kingdom at its height, etc., has no interest for the Israelites telling their story but they, like children allying with their grandparents against their parents, looked to the previous height of civilization for their legendary history?


When Jacob pointedly refuses to give the primary blessing to Joseph's first born we see a repetition of the leitmotif in Genesis of the more liminal latter born being the ones who achieve the birthright. Similarly, later in the Bible, we see lepers, being on the edge of society, as the only ones capable of breaking a siege and such wisdom as "the race does not go to the swift" and "the stone rejected by the builder has become the cornerstone". This is in line with evolutionary theory, which teaches the importance of diversity in order to provide for adaptation and future evolutionary success: today's mutant is tomorrow's fittest; today's also-ran is tomorrow's winner; today's less central junior tribe is tomorrow's leadership corps; today's criminals are tomorrow's healers and priests; etc. To me this is the real reason why the right often rejects evolution: this truth undercuts the evolutionary-flavored message of social Darwinism, the static world-view of Intelligent Design and the theory of comparative advantage, which say, respectively, that we should not coddle the less than fit, we should accept creation and the current social order as intelligently designed and that nations do best to specialize in what they are (currently) good at. The fact of the matter is, it pays to coddle the less than fit and provide a robust safety-net, we are partners in God's creation and no person nor nation should put all his/her eggs in one basket. The Bible teaches this, evolution teaches this. Yet both Social Darwinists and Bible thumpers miss the key point. Sometimes I wonder if Intelligent Design is a doctrine designed to muddy the waters so that more people miss the key point of both Biblical and real Darwinian thinking about economic issues.


(Belated) VaYigash Blogging

This is, according to Rashi, the only Parsha, which isn't clearly demarcated in the Torah scroll. He gives an interesting explanation. Perhaps if I have the time and inclination, I'll look up the explanation and link to it, if possible, as I do not remember the explanation off-hand.

BTW ... it does seem from my prelimanary googling that the phrase "what's bothering Rashi" has become quite a catch-phrase ... I wouldn't be suprised if Rashi put the "oy" into Yiddish, even if he was a Francophone not a Germanophone ...


Happy 2007!

... would that mean I've just wished y'all a happy 2007*2006*2005* ... ?

Anyway, my political comment for the beginning of this year (it's mighty shallow ... so does that mean I can now be hired as a TeeVee commentator?):

I notice that Nancy Pelosi has learned some skills of public speaking. She now sounds like an upper-crust New Yorker from the early part of the 20th Century rather than like Loud Howard, but at least she is speaking with a cadence and rhythm. But will it be good enough for the punditocracy happy to have their double standards?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?